8 tips to build the best team for your start-up

How to build the ideal team for your start-up – 8 tips from Garth Rapeport

Garth Rapeport is co-founder and CEO of Pulmocide Ltd, a well-established biotech developing inhaled antifungal medicines for life-threatening lung conditions. He was previously co-founder of Respivert, which was sold to a subsidiary of Johnson&Johnson. 

No matter how confident, forward-thinking and all-round capable an entrepreneur is, there can be no start-up success without a dedicated team of people. There is just no such thing as a successful solo entrepreneur. 

Scaling a business successfully takes a varied skillset. It takes different ideas and approaches. And it takes the collective will of a number of highly skilled people. Which is why selecting your start-up team is an absolutely vital piece of the success jigsaw. 

The people you choose to work with on your start-up will make or break your business. But how do you go about choosing the best people for the job? I’ve been involved in a number of biotech start-ups, and always choose to work with people I know well, people I’ve worked with before, and, crucially, people I trust. 

If you’re beginning to assemble your start-up team, here are my tips for getting it right first time. I’ll also cover some strategies you can follow to make sure your team will go the distance. 

  1. The team’s success starts with you

In business, as in life, success grows from self-awareness. It’s the foundation of any success story. Research from Harvard Business Review shows that when people are less self-aware, their team suffers a lot. Teams that consist of less self-aware people make worse decisions, communicate less effectively and can’t deal with conflict. 

The heart of your start-up’s team begins and ends with you. Start with an honest self-evaluation. What do you bring to the table? What are you brilliant at? What are you less brilliant at? Honesty here is key. 

When it comes to team building, it’s not just about hard skills, so make sure you factor this into your self-assessment. Soft skills, including communication style, your moral code, your beliefs and your core personality are also part of the picture. When you’re clear about your skills, then you build on this by selecting team members carefully and strategically. 

  1. Employ decisive people who aren’t afraid to act 

Ideas and endless brainstorming can only get you so far. Without decisive actions to execute these ideas, your start-up will not make it. Your team, therefore, must be brave enough to make decisions and act. 

Working in a start-up is hard. The pace is rapid, the hours are long, and the team must be prepared for that. Start by assessing candidate’s hard skills and core competencies. They need flexibility and the ability to deal with all kinds of challenges without being phased. 

Resourcefulness is also a quality you need from team members, along with innovative thinking, creativity and the ability to think outside of the box. The idea is to build a team that will be able to deal with any scenario. Too many entrepreneurs wait for something to go wrong and then scramble to find people to fix it. Do the opposite. 

  1. Build a team for the long-term 

Yes, we’re talking about building a team for your start-up, but you want to go the whole distance with your business. The start-up phase is only ever temporary. You know you want to get past the first year and scale your business into a successful future. So, start out by planning for that goal. 

A long-term viable business needs a long-term viable team. Recruit with the overarching structure in mind, and always think about your long-term goals. Plan which departments you need to make this happen. Map out the full architectural foundation of your business before you start recruiting.

Obviously, you don’t need to employ someone for every function in the short-term. Begin with the functionality that will bring the minimal viability to your start-up. Recruit people who have the capacity to lead departments for each of the functions you need. This gives you a core leadership structure to build on as the business scales up. 

  1. Recruit people who understand customer service

Customer service is never the responsibility of one department or one person. Every member of your business should always strive to do the best possible job for the end consumer, whether that’s a member of the public or an industry client. 

If you only employ people who put the end consumer first, you will meet your goals. When you are launching a start-up, you may not have enough resources to hire lots of people. This means everyone you select must take responsibility for every function, including interacting with potential customers. 

  1. Yes, personalities do matter!

However tempting it is to hire people with exceptional core skills above any other consideration, it’s not always the best decision. If you hire team members who can’t get along and don’t want to work together, you are risking your start-up from the outset. 

Understand the personality traits of your candidates before you form a team. You need diversity, but harmonious diversity where possible. Just less than half of all employers rely on personality tests when recruiting, although the jury is out as to their effectiveness. 

Consider the individual goals of the team members, and how the role you’re offering contributes towards them. You want people who will mix well with each other and, ideally, want to stay for the long-haul. Some people may view your start-up as a stepping-stone, or a networking opportunity. Whether that fits your vision is your call, but it’s likely that employing people with aspirations that align with yours is a better choice. 

  1. Lead from the front 

You must step up and lead your team. It’s about taking different parts of the whole and directing it to work seamlessly together. This isn’t easy, but it is your role as start-up owner. 

Building rapport is absolutely vital to establish the momentum that you need to grow a start-up. You must merge together the right skillsets and personalities so that the whole can perform at its best. 

  1. Diversity leads to creativity 

If you stick to one type of person, they will all do the same thing. This is more than creatively stultifying; it’s can be the death-knell for a start-up. Start-ups need new ideas, creativity and flexibility of thought. 

Teams that are too homogenous have similar views, and similar strengths. This means they also have similar weak spots and may not be able to recognise this in each other. This leads to mistakes, wasted time and potential problems for a start-up. 

You need some kind of pushback within any team. Disagreeing on ideas pushes for creative excellence, and without this dynamic, you’re in danger of failing.

  1. If someone doesn’t fit in, act decisively

The early stages of a start-up are crucial for future success. If you make a hiring error during this phase, you must act decisively to rectify it. Settling for a team member who just doesn’t fit in could be a fatal mistake. 

This is why it’s important to take plenty of time before you hire people. Thoroughly evaluate them, their skills, their background and their aims. It will cost you much more to fix a recruitment error, than to take this time up front. 

Follow these tips, take time to craft your team, and you will be set up for success. Nothing is more important when you start a business than the people you hire to take your vision forward. 

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